The race to hire the hottest buy-side candidates in Singapore
It’s not just banks in Asia that want to hire people for environmental, social and governance (ESG) jobs. Asset managers in Singapore and Hong Kong face an uphill battle for talent this year as they seek to fill roles related to sustainability. Buy-side firms are looking to recruit at the mid-to-senior level, adding to a trend that’s been building momentum in the last few years.
What’s different this year is that the scale of the hiring is expected to be much bigger, putting pressure on a relatively limited talent pool with experience in ESG, according to recruiters.
“Across the board, we are seeing a more consistent amount of hiring sustainable professionals,” says John Mullally, regional director of Southern China and Hong Kong financial services at Robert Walters. “The issue is the lack of talent because in Asia it’s still a relatively new concept compared to where it would be in North America, Australia and Europe,” he adds.
Abrdn, BNP Paribas Asset Management, NNIP, Nordea Asset Management, Robeco and Schroders have set up sustainability hubs in Singapore, or have announced their intention to do so, according to the Singapore Asset Management Survey, which was released in November 2021 by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).
What kind of positions are they creating? “These managers will develop their green finance research capabilities, launch new sustainable strategies or anchor green fintech solutions in Singapore,” says the MAS report.
Meanwhile, other firms have been hiring at a leadership level. BlackRock, Fidelity International and Fullerton now have global or Asia Pacific regional ESG heads in Singapore to “drive their sustainable investing strategies and stewardship activities”, according to MAS. In December, Eastspring Investments, the Singapore-based asset management business of Prudential plc, announced it had hired Stuart Wilson in the newly created role of head of sustainability.
What’s driving this recruitment? For the most part, it is a shift among pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, endowments and other sources of capital that require closer oversight of how their assets are managed.
“Many investors, especially public fund investors, see their role as more than just ‘return-seekers’. Given their strong influence and authority in the space, many of these investors have assumed social responsibility to make a positive impact on our society,” says Rouella Landicho, associate director, banking and financial services and legal, at Randstad.
She adds that paying attention to how well companies adhere to ESG principles can also help shield investors from potential trouble. “For example, investing in a company with poor ESG compliance could expose the portfolio to potential risks that may damage the company’s reputation,” says Landicho.
To meet the growing demand, Mullally says his firm launched a desk dedicated solely to sustainability-related recruitment last year and expects to make about one hire per month in the space. “It has momentum and is turning into something a lot more tangible,” says Mullally, referring to the growing awareness of sustainability over the last two years.
So what can prospective candidates do to make their CVs stand out to a hiring manager? Many buy-side firms are looking to transfer or promote existing staff internally owing to the difficulty in finding qualified personnel externally, says Singapore-based Will Tan, managing director of Principle Partners.
When firms make internal transfers, it is not uncommon to see people moving from equity research or compliance to fill sustainability roles. Tan says those without ESG experience should try to learn more about the emerging field by attending conferences and taking part in talks on environmental issues. Keeping socially in touch with those currently working in ESG roles can also be a valuable way to learn about the challenges they face. “At the end of the day what firms are looking for is actual experience,” says Tan.
Generally, asset managers are looking for candidates with prior expertise in the ESG ecosystem, knowledge of financial markets, an understanding of how asset management works, and experience in how to integrate social responsibility into the investment process, says Tan.
He adds that Singapore currently has the edge over Hong Kong as a hub for sustainability best practice, thanks in part to an early commitment by industry. The Singapore government has also recently launched several initiatives to grow the green finance ecosystem.